Shakespeare’s Hamlet opens with a wedding scene. Directly following these nuptials, the famed line “to be or not to be” begins a soliloquy that poses an apropos line of questioning for the thesis of this essay: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing, end them.
That’s the quagmire all bridesmaids face: to suffer in silence, or to oppose the status quo. I’m going to go out on a limb and say suffering is an innate condition of both human existence at large and being a bridesmaid. After all, being in a wedding party is expensive, it’s a thankless job, and at best, there’s probably a robe in it for you that you’ll never wear again. These are cold, hard facts you will hear from almost anyone who’s been there, done that, and we’re here to offer some reportage from the front lines that you won’t find in the small print. Enjoy the captain’s log from my maiden voyage across the bridal sea—as a card-carrying member of the tomboy class.
When it comes to bridesmaid duty, it’s okay to say no. Take a moment to let that marinate. If you find yourself opening a Pinterest-worthy “Will you be my bridesmaid?” gift set, by all means swoon over your girlfriend’s pluck and creativity. Amazon-Now her that champagne and, from the bottom of your heart, revel in the freedom and the bravery to answer in reply, “A thousand times NO.”
This job is not for amateurs. Take it seriously. If you don’t, rest assured you will be alone in your principles come wedding day. It is far better to refuse the responsibility upfront than to agree to a job you can’t afford or carry out with enthusiasm. There are a thousand moving parts to a wedding, so you can still make a contribution without the tag of bridesmaid. Communicate your concerns upfront to the bride, and set boundaries in a loving and gracious way. The last thing you want is to ruin years of friendship and goodwill with a moody stint at a banquet hall reception.
If you’re a bridesmaid, there are certain fixed costs. It’s an expensive gig—it just is. We can all agree that the airline tickets, Airbnb rentals, gowns, showers, and gift registries are a small price to pay in the face of eternal bliss for your nearest and dearest, right? Fine. What you may not be anticipating is what I affectionately refer to as “emotional upselling.” You will pay in other ways.
If there are errands that need running, from dropping off spring rolls at the invitation printer to picking up newspapers on the day of so someone can “make a time capsule,” consider yourself a triage specialist on call. These errands—some of which are frivolous, most of which are debatably unnecessary—will be doled out with so much ceremony and import you’ll feel a kinship to Moses.
By the end of your run, you’ll be a salty veteran who wouldn’t bat a false eyelash if a burning bush implored you to go on a pilgrimage for more Prosecco. If random acts of kindness aren’t your forte, return to my first bullet point (the one about first rights of refusal).
Brides get a bad rap. The chillest babe at the wedding I took part in was the bride. Much like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, the real source of the drama hunted in packs, categorized by sideways-flank attacks nobody saw coming. Put a dozen girls in a room and there’s always one she-devil in the ranks who takes bathroom privileges too seriously. It might even be the wedding planner.
In my experience, due in no small part to estrogen-fueled containment, drama is contagious, and patient zero often ends up being the friend you least expect (i.e., the super-together “success story” in the clique).
To offset any power-tripping that may occur, the bridesmaids need an acting general on the field. I recommend a “good cop, bad cop” strategy. Who is the most politically correct among you, the girl nobody can stay mad at? There’s your good cop. When feathers get ruffled, send her in to smooth things over and save face. Now, the friend who will shoot it straight and tell the uppity wedding planner you are NOT all standing in the 105-degree heat in matching beige silk gowns for half an hour while waiting for photos? That girl’s your muscle. Do no harm, but take no bull, ladies.
One of the easiest areas to save on being a bridesmaid is professional hair and makeup. Let’s be real: It’s Russian roulette anyway (as documented ever so viscerally in this season’s Girls). Rather than shelling out your hard-earned dough to have an unvetted satellite artist curate matching eyeshadow palettes, pick a day on your calendar for your crew to sync up.
Grab some bottles of wine and get together for a YouTube and Pinterest palooza of online tutorials and vibe imagery. The Internet will teach you how to nail any look on your own. If you can’t master a fishtail braid upon digesting the play-by-play from Lauren Conrad, statistically one in four* females can. Find that unicorn in your girl gang.
Personally, I find the expression “it’s her day” to be completely antithetical to the spirit of the institution that is marriage. Why would anyone celebrate a sacred union based upon empathy, sacrifice, and trust with 24 hours of unmitigated selfishness?
If you share my position, keep it to yourself. Nobody cares. It is the bride’s day. Period. Get ready to play man-on-man defense on everything from feeding times to showering. Your life is not your own on the day of the ceremony. It’s not unlikely that you’ll be ushered from photography to rehearsals to impromptu gift-giving suites without so much as an acknowledgment that your basic human needs (food, water, shelter) have been accommodated.
When I reported for duty in a shared home with eight bridesmaids, the only food in the refrigerator was a lone Costco-size pallet of Activia (this remained mysteriously untouched) and a single bottle of orange juice. Be proactive. Go full-on soccer mom and roll with an Igloo cooler full of snack packs to the rehearsal. You’ll be a hero. High emotions plus low blood sugar equals a recipe for disaster. Friends don’t let friends drive hangry.
Let’s say hypothetically you said yes when you should have said “thanks but no thanks.” You felt hurt and used when asked to complete tasks without a thank-you. You staged a jailbreak from hair and makeup to make a run for breakfast supplies. You didn’t seek preapproval on all jewelry and accessories and were subsequently confused as to why that’s even a thing.
Let’s say you’re like me, and you were quite possibly the worst bridesmaid in the history of time. There’s a silver lining on all the behind-the-scenes farce and rigmarole: The bride? She won’t remember any of that. Once her fog of intermingled joy and stress lifts after successfully executing an undertaking that took months of planning, she’ll just be thrilled you made it. If not, book her a massage. Send a handwritten note. Take her to a post-honeymoon lunch at a place that serves the same ethnic cuisine as the vacation. Make good. And if all else fails, offer her the ultimate restitution with open palms: Tell her that when you get hitched, she doesn’t have to be a bridesmaid.
Shop coffee-table wedding books below, and if you’ve ever been a bridesmaid, share any words of wisdom from your field experience.